Cross-Cultural Assessment: A Call for Test Adaptation
During the past several decades, the unique challenges of cross-cultural counseling and assessment have attracted considerable attention. Cross-cultural assessment has become a sensitive issue due to specific concerns regarding the use of standardized tests across cultures. Within this context, Butcher and Garcia (1978) identified test translation and test adaptation as two main problems associated with cross-national testing. Issues related to cross- cultural testing and test adaptation will be discussed in this article.
Before selecting an assessment instrument for use in counseling or research, counselors and researchers are trained to verify that the test is appropriate for use with their population. This includes investigation of validity, reliability, and appropriate norm groups to which the population is to be compared. Validity and reliability take on additional dimensions in cross-cultural testing as does the question of the appropriate norm group. The instrument must be validly adapted, the test items must have conceptual and linguistic equivalence, and the test and the test items must be bias free (Fouad, 1993; Geisinger, 1994).
Two basic methods for test adaptation have been identified: forward translation and back-translation. In forward translation, the original test in the source language is translated into the target language and then bilinguals are asked to compare the original version with the adapted version (Hambleton, 1993; 1994). In back-translation, the test is translated into the target language and then it is re-translated back to the source language. This process can be repeated several times. Once the process is complete, the final back-translated version is compared to the original version (Hambleton, 1994). Each of these adaptation processes has their strengths and limitations.
Adapting an existing instrument instead of developing a new one has both advantages and disadvantages. By adapting an instrument, the researcher is able to compare the already-existing data with newly acquired data, thus allowing for cross-cultural studies both on the national and international level. Adaptations also can conserve time and expenses (Hambleton, 1993). Test adaptation can lead to increased fairness in assessment by allowing individuals to be assessed in the language of their choice (Hambleton & Kanjee, 1995).
A disadvantage of adaptation includes the risk of imposing conclusions based on concepts that exist in one culture but may not exist in the other. There are no guarantees that the concept in the source culture exists in the target culture (Lonner & Berry, 1986). Another disadvantage of adapting existing tests for use in another culture is that if certain constructs measured in the original version are not found in the target population, or if the construct is manifested in a different manner, the resulting scores can prove to be misleading (Hambleton, 1994). Despite the difficulties associated with using adapted instruments, this practice is important because it allows for greater generalizability and allows for investigation of differences among a growing diverse population. Once the test has been adapted, test equivalence must be determined.
There are four types of equivalence: functional equivalence, conceptual equivalence, metric equivalence, and linguistic equivalence (Lonner, 1985). Functional equivalence refers to the role or function that behavior plays in different cultures. One cannot assume that behaviors play the same role or function across cultures; therefore, assumptions made about the function of behavior in a cultural group must be verified. Conceptual equivalence refers to the similarity in meaning attached to behavior or concepts. Certain behaviors and concepts may have different meanings across cultures. Metric equivalence refers to the psychometric properties and indicates that the scales measure the same constructs in different cultures. Finally, linguistic equivalence refers to the actual translation process.
Another issue that must be considered in cross-cultural assessment is test bias. The test user must ascertain that the test and the test items do not systematically discriminate against one cultural group or another. Test bias may occur when the contents of the test are more familiar to one group than to another or when the tests have differential predictive validity across groups (Fouad, 1994). Culture plays a significant role in cross-cultural assessment. Whenever tests developed in one culture are used with another culture there is the potential for misinterpretation and stagnation unless cultural issues are considered. Issues of test adaptation, test equivalence and test bias must be considered in order to fully utilize the benefit of cross-cultural assessment.
Butcher, J. N., & Garcia, R. E. (1978). Cross-national application of psychological tests. The Personnel and Guidance Journal, 56, 472-475.
Fouad, N. A. (1993). Cross-cultural vocational assessment. The Career Development Quarterly, 42, 4-13.
Geisinger, K. F. (1994). Cross-cultural normative assessment: Translation and adaptation issues influencing the normative interpretation of assessment instruments. Psychological Assessment, 6, 304-312.
Hambleton, R. K. (1993). Translating achievement tests for use in cross-national studies. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 9, 57-68.
Hambleton, R. K. (1994). Guidelines for adapting educational and psychological tests: A progress report. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 10, 229-244.
Hambleton, R. K., & Kanjee, A. (1995). Increasing the validity of cross-cultural assessments: Use of improved methods for test adaptation. European Journal of Psychological Assessment 11, 147-157.
Lonner, W.J., & Berry, J. W. (Eds.) (1986). Field methods in cross-cultural research. Beverly Hills: Sage.
May 3, 2001